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Two Californians sentenced in Alaska for identity theft

Jerzy Shedlock

Two California residents received years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines for stealing identities there and in Alaska, part of a scheme involving the filing of false income tax returns.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess sentenced Jameane Bolton-Williams, 39, and Joe Murl Douglas, Jr., 54, to nearly seven years and five years in prison, respectively. Bolton-Williams was ordered to pay $91,927 in restitution; Douglas will be required to give back $43,043, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Alaska office.

The schemers worked with two others to obtain identifying information from their victims, including names, birthdates and social security numbers. They used that information to prepare fake income tax returns, which were submitted to tax preparation businesses in Anchorage, Eagle River and Palmer, as well as in California.

The false returns requested refunds totaling between $1,400 and $8,600, according to the news release. In many instances, they applied for “refund anticipation loans,” cash advances that make tax refunds available before the Internal Revenue Service deposited the checks, and loaded the money onto store-bought, disposable debit cards. This allowed them access to the money even if the IRS later rejected their claims.

The defendants pocketed enough money from the scheme to buy at least one vehicle, a 2002 Mercedes, according to the news release.

Judge Burgess previously sentenced co-defendant Lucille Stransberry to three years for her part in the identity-theft scheme while a fourth individual, Demetrick Ruffin, “remains a fugitive,” the news release says.

“During both sentencing hearings, the victims of this conspiracy spoke at length about the devastating effects these crimes have had on their lives, recounting their difficulties securing loans, paying for their children’s education, and providing for themselves in retirement,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie C. Courter.

The judge said he considered the expansion of identity theft crimes in recent years when deciding the defendants’ sentences.